Step 6: Online Research vs Dealer Visit
Make sure you know when to use the Internet and when to visit the dealer.
For most people, the process of buying a car involves both using the Internet and visiting one or more dealers. What many car shoppers don’t realize is that more of the process can be done online than one would expect. In fact, it is possible to purchase a car without ever visiting a dealer. While that may sound appealing, visiting a dealer can be very helpful in order to thoroughly review the cars being considered, learn how certain features or technologies work and to take a test drive. Let’s look at what you can do online and what you need to do at a dealer.
Use the Internet First
The Internet should be the first stop in your car buying process, not a dealer’s lot. The Internet is the place to do all the initial research when narrowing down your potential car choices. Make a list of the cars that interest you and look up the Total Car Score for each. This will provide an overview of where each car stands in relation to its primary competitors along with key information about the car.
Next, for each model you are interested in, visit the manufacturer’s websites and some of the independent car pricing and vehicle information sites, such as Consumer Guide, Consumer Reports, Edmunds.com, J.D. Power and Associates, MSN Autos, The Car Connection and US News & World Report,to get more information. Total Car Score helps to make this part easy for you because we’ve already gathered a collection of links to articles from various independent sources, as well as crash test and fuel economy data. To access it, simply follow the link that says “See Full Scoring Report Card” at the bottom of the Total Car Sources box on the upper right of any vehicle page. The Additional Resources section at the bottom of any vehicle page also has links to the manufacturer of the car, the owner’s manual, an owner’s forum and other sites that can help give you a complete picture of the new or used car you are considering. If you decide you need to broaden your horizons, Total Car Score makes that easy too – just follow the links in the Primary Competitors section in the middle of any car’s page to see other, similar vehicles in the same category and price range.
After you have your finance options dialed in, go back to your list of cars and do the legwork to determine the best price on the make and models that interest you. Remember, you’ll want to get the pricing information for the exact car you are interested in, including the powertrain and all the options you want, plus the year and the mileage (if it’s a used car). While you are visiting the vehicle pricing sites to get prices for your new car pull the numbers on your current car. This will help when it’s time to calculate trading in your current car or selling it on your own.
If you know exactly what you want and don’t need to take it for a test drive, then you can use a car broker or a car buying service to facilitate your purchase. But chances are you’ll want to get behind the wheel for a test drive before you make your final decision, meaning you’ll need to visit a dealer.
Visiting the Dealer
Once you’ve gathered all of this information you are ready to schedule some test drives. Don’t head over to the dealer’s lot just yet, however. Instead, head back to your computer and do a search for the dealers you want to visit. If you are unsure of the name of a specific dealership you can find it by visiting the manufacturer’s website and entering your zip code to get a list of the dealers closest to you.
On the dealership website you can search their inventory to see what’s available for the model you want. Also, follow the links to submit an online quote or look for the contact information for the Internet Manager. The Internet Manager is the person who best understands what savvy car shoppers (like you) want and is less likely to give you a high pressure sales pitch. Next, call that person and tell him that you’ve been researching a few cars online and that you want to schedule a test drive for the model you are interested in. Make note of the specific trim level and any options you that are important to you. Set up a specific day and time to come in and make it clear you expect the car to be ready for the test drive. This will reduce the time you spend waiting and help deter them from trying to show you other cars that don’t interest you.
At the dealer, you’ll want to do a thorough test drive first. If you are completely sure this is the car for you use the information you’ve gathered online to negotiate the deal and finalize your purchase. If you are still unsure, thank the salesman for his time, get his business card and tell him you’ll be in touch. Then, go test drive the other cars you are considering before making your final decision.